Thoughts on the Continuing Assault on Women’s Rights and Progressivist Gaslighting in Kerala

After the atrocious indifference and trivialisation of domestic violence displayed by the sneering alpha-male brigade of the CPM during the discussion of the Hadiya Case, nothing surprises me. However, it appears important to point out how such callousness is indeed becoming normalised here alarmingly. It seems that the gains of women’s movement which made violence against women at home something beyond an intimate private affair, a ‘family quarrel’, are being steadily depleted. Of course, we did see how so many smooth-talking liberal CPM-oriented or purportedly-rationalist young male intellectuals went ballistic at the mere suggestion that they are blind to the domestic violence in Hadiya’s imprisonment. Also intriguing was their persistent defense of the father’s right to keep an adult, mentally fit, educated daughter immobile and imprisoned because he feared for her safety.

But now an even more atrocious incident has been reported. Here is the link.

This is about the illegal arrest and detention of a woman who tried to leave her home seeking domestic labour to escape her alcoholic and abusive husband. Twenty-eight-year-old Nisha left her two young sons at her husband’s home unable to bear his violence, seeking work in Aluva first and then accepting work at Chennai. On Nov 3, the husband, Ramesh, reported her missing to the police. The police apparently tracked her using her mobile number,arrested her from the railway station, and slapped a case on her using the Juvenile Justice Act. She was produced in court last Saturday and remanded to custody.

It seems to me that the Kerala police are happily advancing the assault on women facing domestic violence already underway in the Hadiya case. If the CPM alpha male intellectuals were keen to uphold the father’s rights, the police are enthusiastic to uphold the rights of the abusive husband. In both cases, the woman is imprisoned with her words treated with utter disregard.

I want to ask all the senior and respected women IPS officers in Kerala — B Sandhya, R Sreelekha, and others — is this the culture of your force? Are they bound by oath to the Indian Constitution and the laws of democratic society, or are they minions of petty patriarchs? Is a legislation like the Juvenile Justice Act meant to be used against women trying to survive in the face of domestic abuse? Does the father have no responsibility at all in the care of young children? There is widespread concern that the Kerala police has acted nearly like the arm of Hindutva forces in the ‘protection’ they are offering Hadiya in her home, colluding with her father to expose her to Hindutva agents. In this case too they are acting on the bidding of the father, against the mother who tried to escape his violence. So are we back to a brutal patriarchy in which fathers/husbands have no obligations to care for and foster their daughters/wives and respect their equal rights, but may exercise brutal control over them and subject them to violence with the complicity of the law? What does that imply for you, respected women IPS officers? It is clear that for all the ‘gender sensitisation’ programmes that the Kerala police may have undertaken, they still feel nothing for a woman struggling against domestic violence; they know nothing of the everyday trauma she goes through.

Please stop boasting about the Janamaitri community policing from now at least. My maitri to janam is limited to whatever a social science researcher can acquire during fieldwork, but I have seen how the Juvenile Justice Act is often used against impoverished women in the poorest localities of Thiruvananthapuram, often by hostile relatives. But even in cases in which mothers have indeed been violent to their children, I have wondered, seeing them helpless and despondent in custody: how come it is the poorest, socially the most disadvantaged women, themselves subject to horrid violence on a daily basis often by their husbands and juggling many kinds of work to keep the hearth warm, who get punished, and not, say, middle-class school teachers who have no qualms about subjecting children to the most humiliating violence?

Indeed, the police’s mechanical use of the Juvenile Justice Act in this case is parallel to the Women’s Commission Chairperson M C Josephine’s mechanical implementation of the Kerala State Women’s Commission’s powers in the Hadiya case. In both, apparent faithfulness to the letter is actually a cover for violating the democratising spirit of the law; indeed in both, these instruments are used against women who need help, not for them.

But even more appalling is the language used by the reporter. Indeed, shame on you all, editors of the Mathrubhumi! Is this your level of education really? Your reporter clearly hasn’t even heard of the term ‘domestic violence’ and so uses the regressive and apolitical term ‘family quarrel’ which hides the power equations so well! Your reporter does not know anything about how laws ostensibly to protect women and children could well be used against them! The whole tone of the report casts the woman as somehow trying to abscond after committing a crime and ‘getting caught’ by the police. This points to the deep erosion of democratisation of public language in Kerala — terms like ‘domestic violence’ were not born in the language by themselves, they were hard-fought-for by the women’s movement. To erase them  thus shows how low journalism has fallen in Kerala.

I believe that this is actually part of a much larger process of  the destruction of the language and convictions build into public life by feminists in Kerala. The honeymoon, persisting from the mid 1990s, is over. Today, the CPM-acolyte-cum-journalist-led gaslighting especially on Facebook, (led by some of their female supporters, actually) needs careful analysis, which I hope to do someday. It is important to call their tactics just that — gaslighting — which is a powerful form of emotional abuse.

Their primary tactic was to divide subtly – establish that sexual violence in the actress attack case involving the actor Dileep was somehow more vital and  demanding punitive state action,  in comparison with the domestic violence in Hadiya’s imprisonment. As in effective gaslighting, this was done carefully, with the women among them taking the lead, and claiming to be fair and concerned about domestic violence even while arguing that it was something that could be easily resolved through ‘care for the family’. Outright lies and misrepresentation of the history of the Hadiya case were spread repeatedly and determinedly in precisely the way effective gaslighters operate, combined with trivialisation and meme-making trolling tactics of others who tried to present more empirically-rigorous versions of the event. The effort to make the latter feel that they were against social freedom was forceful. Then, on Facebook,  with  the MeToo campaign sweeping in, domestic violence disappeared deep in the horizon, so did the prospect of dealing with sexual violence at work as an institutionally-resolvable harassment-at-workplace issue. With the feminist response to sexual harassment reduced to essentially list-making, generating outrage seems to be synonymous with the delivery of justice, and ironically enough, the potential for sensationalising sexual harassment seems to have multiplied manifold.

Therefore the sleazy solar scam report seems to be generating heavy-duty outrage among the CPM-leaning acolytes, and Saritha Nair’s woes seem to attract sympathy and admiration among them. Indeed there is every reason for us to think of building due process in a way that would make it possible for us to take Saritha Nair’s complaints as sexual harassment at workplace, given that it happened while she was at work. Not that I sympathise with her, nor is she a naive victim. But if she seeks justice, then it should be through pursuing her complaints as harassment at workplace, and not through lending her talents to the sensationalising, outrage-building industry. In the present however,  the former may not be even possible, though, since the CPM seems to be waiting to squeeze out the juiciest from the massive outrage-cum-titillation potential.

Destroying the gains of feminist struggles in Kerala by trivialising and belittling democratising ideas and language for short-term gains (for example, to beat down Islamicists) will inevitably boomerang on all of us one day. One bright young progressivist activist, prominent on Facebook, asked me privately why ‘my standards’ are falling. He could not produce any concrete evidence for a fall in the empirical and logical strength of my arguments. My concern with the disparaging of domestic violence by his ilk, my refusal to sympathise with their inability to stomach the fact that many of them may indeed have participated in different degrees in partner-abuse, was what he perceived as a ‘fall in standards’.

This young man ought to take a look at the standards his peers are pushing in people’s faces before judging me. He ought to wonder why it is so acceptable to protest sexual  violence while domestic violence seems to have become incomprehensible to the judiciary, the police, and smart and mobile young men like him. Why those who were enthusiastic about Metoo were outraged by the farthest suggestion of a domestic abuser list.

And therefore, I prefer to write about the lone struggle of a woman trying to escape of a violent alcoholic husband, and how the LDF government’s police is viciously destroying her life. The gaslighting has still not worked on me despite all the vicious memes; the epithets of ‘Sudapini’ (which I think is Basheerian-cute), and ‘cheergirl’ have not bothered me. I have still not lost the ability to critique Islamicism, and more importantly, am still able to see that you are gaslighters, not intellectuals.

 

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Continuing Assault on Women’s Rights and Progressivist Gaslighting in Kerala

  1. Dinakaran Meenamkunnu

    J Devika holds a mirror against the Kerala society and the result is not only unflattering, but reveals it to be so ugly. But she has done a first step in exposing the sheer congenital hollowness of the self-acclaimed progressive males of the state. Kerala, like Russia, moved into formal republican politics from a state of dark feudalism without undergoing the intermittent stage of wiping off the burden of “tradition”. In fact, most of the liberal-left leadership of the post-independence era came straight from the landed classes. More so the “progressive” writers who took to the valiant struggles of the subaltern in their writing, but maintained quasi-feudal life-styles which started getting reflected in their latter day works. The progressivism of the male Malayali is a thin coating on his deep-rooted “traditional” cosmology and the deification of the family became a convenient peg to hang all his insecurities of an unmanageable Feminist/Subaltern consciousness. Familus, the singular of Family is a synonym for slave. No wonder the yearning of the Mundu-Male is to keep the wives and children as his property and use them as commodities to please his fluctuating vanities. The whole Establishment, whether they are politicians, bureaucrats or public intellectuals, would not see anything amiss when wives and children are abused. ‘Only when such a thing happens with your sisters and daughters , will you feel perturbed” was the comment the traditional progressives used to mouth privately during the Kiss-of-Love campaign. I agree with Devika that the gains that feminists made in the last two decades is being rolled back. But that is the way history move. We have to work against all odds to keep the republican values shining and another sinusoidal turn towards sanity is soon bound to happen.

  2. venukmwpb

    Very well said ; such questions needed to be thrown at the very macho face of arrogance masquerading often as Kerala Left

  3. K SHESHU BABU

    It is sad that these cases of assault, harassment and torture of women are happening in a state which has better sex ratio than most other states in the country. Male hegemony is at its peak in a state with ‘ progressive ‘ left rule and higher rate of literacy …!!

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